City Council committee agrees to double the parking-in-one-place limit for food trucks

Food trucks have become a vital part of Chicago’s culinary scene. Now, instead of forcing the trucks to pack up and move out after two hours, the city will allow operators to remain in one legal space for four hours at a time.

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City inspectors check licenses of food trucks on Wacker Drive.

Food trucks would be allowed to park twice as long in one location in Chicago, under a city ordinance OK’s Wednesday by a City Council committee.

Sun-Times file photo

The days of watching the clock are over, sort of, for Chicago food trucks that have fast become a vital part of the culinary scene in this city of foodies.

The City Council’s License Committee on Wednesday signed off on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to double — to four hours — the amount of time food trucks are permitted to park and stay in one legal space.

“Food trucks add to our economy and the vibrancy of our food scene. It’s time we revise the rules governing them,” Lightfoot tweeted after Wednesday’s vote.

The mayor’s ordinance is poised for final approval at next week’s City Council meeting. It would also create a permanent, two-year license for mobile merchants that have operated for years under temporary status.

The ordinance had the blessing of an Illinois Restaurant Association that once viewed food trucks as a threat. That’s in part because a rule requiring food trucks to park at least 200 feet away from brick-and-mortar restaurants remains in place.

Restaurant Association President Sam Toia, former owner of Leona’s Restaurants, has acknowledged the two-hour limit was too short, particularly since it takes “30 minutes to set up and get the water and propane going and 30 minutes to tear down.”

Amy Korte, vice president of policy for the Illinois Policy Institute, said “it’s fair” to extend the one-spot time limit for food trucks. Offering permanent licenses for mobile merchants will generate more revenue for the city and breathe new life into neighborhood commercial strips, she said.

“Too often ... operators must pack up or prepare to be ticketed shortly after setting up — even though they may have customers lined up, eager to buy breakfast, lunch or treats,” Korte told aldermen.

“Mobile boutiques can play a key role in driving shoppers to neighborhoods where they also might patronize established shops and restaurants. These merchants can also bring shopping opportunities to areas with few established outlets and give local artisans and artists more places to show and sell their works.”

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) said his West Side ward can’t afford to “lose any more brick-and-mortars.” He’s a bit concerned about the competition between stores and mobile boutiques.

“If I’m a place that sells wedding dresses and you come out and you buy shoes, that’s a complement. But if we’re both selling dresses or wedding dresses, it’s gonna be more of a competition,” Scott said.

“I just want to make sure that a brick-and-mortar store will have the ability to say, ‘I think this is cutting into some of my profits’ and you’ll look at that and adjust kind of where that vehicle can park.”

Business and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno countered that “healthy competition is good for” the Chicago economy.

“If, today, that same wedding shop had a vacant storefront next to them and another wedding shop chose to go there, nothing would prohibit that healthy competition,” she said.

“The idea here is to support the growth of business. ... However, if the mobile merchant is a problem and it’s causing a nuisance, it’s causing congestion, it’s causing litter — that’s something we can certainly address.”

Chicago has 100 active food trucks — 65 “mobile food preparers” cooking and preparingon board and 35 “mobile food dispensers” selling food prepared off-site.

The two-year license fee is $1,100 for mobile food preparers and $700 mobile food dispensers.

Until now, the city has allowed only four mobile merchants to test their concepts under a so-called “emerging business permit” due to expire at month’s end.

Last year, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried and failed to create a new and permanent designation for “mobile merchants” that allowed non-food items to be sold from legally-parked trucks.

Lightfoot’s ordinance solves concerns raised then about a double-standard by providing relief for a food truck industry that has chafed at the two-hour rule and violated it with impunity, according to a joint 2015 investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC7.

Soon after the 2012 ordinance took effect, food truck owners filed a lawsuit against the city challenging the 200-foot rule.

In May, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the ordinance. Six months later, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.

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